NBA Handicapping: Trail Blazers Losing Their Momentum in the West
by Trevor Whenham - 2/6/2015
On Jan. 11 the Portland Trail Blazers won at the Lakers to move their record to 30-8. They were flying high. Since then they have doubled their loss total, dropping eight of 12. Golden State was 29-5 back on the 11th and was in a dogfight with Portland. The Warriors haven't quit winning, though, and are now seven games ahead of the Blazers. Portland was once in a race to win the West. Now they have to be more worried about holding off the Clippers and Mavs - both just a half game behind - and keep the right to a home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. So, what has gone wrong? And, more significantly, what can bettors expect going forward? Let's take a look:
LaMarcus Aldridge: The big man may not ultimately prove to be the best player on the team, but he is certainly the most feared. He is big and dangerous, and his game grows each year. He's an elite talent. Unfortunately, he's banged up. How it has gone down, though, is a bit odd. He hurt his thumb on Jan. 19, and after x-rays revealed a ligament issue the team announced that he would miss six to eight weeks for surgery. He leads the team in both scoring and rebounds and is one of only three guys in the league to be averaging better than 20 and 10, so he was obviously going to be missed. Only he had no intention of being missed. After two games away, Aldridge made the decision to skip surgery and attempt to play through the injury. He has played very well in the six games he has been back, so for now it's a good decision. If he aggravates the injury further, though, it could lead to a longer absence and a bigger impact to the team. It's a huge risk. There is the further complication as well that some are questioning why he came back - perhaps to improve his value as he readies to hit the open market. At this point we can't judge this decision, but we can know that he has had a solid impact so far. Short term it has been good, but longer term it makes me nervous.
Robin Lopez: The seven-footer broke his hand on Dec. 15 and missed the next 23 games. The squad was 19-6 when he was hurt, and they went 13-10 when he was out. He has been back for the last two games, and they have won both. Lopez is not an offensive force by any means, but he is a shutdown defensive presence - their defense is 7.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court than when he is off it. His return also means that Chris Kaman will get less playing time, and that is never a bad thing. A combination of a Lopez return and Aldridge being able to keep playing despite his bad hand could really help to get this team back on track in a hurry.
Damian Lillard: When I said Aldridge may not be the best player on the team long term it was because Lillard has the chance to be. Right now, though, the point guard isn't doing all he can. In fact, he's slumping. His shooting in January was lousy - way below his standard. When he isn't hitting shots he loses his swagger and doesn't have the impact on games that he needs to. He has shot much better from inside the arc in the last two wins but hasn't hit a 3-pointer in 11 attempts in the two games. Watching his play closely will be a strong indicator of where this team is at and where they could be headed. He openly feels slighted every time someone doesn't call him one of the best point guards in the league. Now he needs to prove that's what he is. His team needs him.
Nicolas Batum: We don't have to dwell on this one much because the issues are clear - Batum is well behind where he has been in recent years in all his key stats. He just isn't the player he has been. A banged-up wrist has been an issue, but the problem seems to be more with his head. He just needs to find his form again if this team wants to do any real damage.
Bench is lousy: With so many key players being injured or not able to play at full strength there is a lot of responsibility being put on the collective shoulders of the bench. They just aren't good enough at this point. The bench ranks 28th in the league in scoring and far too low in rebounding and assists as well. They have a starting core that is good enough to do some serious damage, but they can't do it alone, and what they have in a supporting role is the biggest reason to be pessimistic about this team.
ATS performance: Over the course of the season the team has not been particularly useful for bettors - they are 25-24-1 ATS, so there has been no money to be made on the season either betting on or against them. The problems against the spread, though, have, like other woes, come since the calendar turned to a new year. They are a dismal 5-12 ATS since the start of January.
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